Operation Purple helps Fort Bragg children cope with stress of deployed parents
Kayleigh Wanovich, 8, 'caught' a fish at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tent during the Military Appreciation Day portion of Operation Purple Camp July 21. Also featured at the celebration was a fire truck from Rockfish station, military vehicles from the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade, inflatable bouncy houses, a dunking booth and free snow cones and cotton candy.

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - With many Soldiers deploying for the second, third or even fourth time in their careers, they and their Families feel the stress, pain and worry of having a loved one far away. Children often step into more responsible roles and deal with more stress, leaving less time just to be a kid.

The National Military Family Association recognized children's need to just be kids in 2004 and started Operation Purple - a way to empower military children and their Families to develop and maintain healthy and connected relationships, in spite of the current military environment. The counselors at Camp Rockfish, located 20 miles from Fort Bragg, are helping children have fun and cope with being military children.

"This becomes a very quick Family because of the nature of their history. When they're here, they don't have to worry about anything else because they all have similar home lives," said David Weber Jr., director of Rockfish Camp Retreat Center.

During the free, week-long camp, children ages 7 to 17 participate in activities ranging from climbing a 40-foot tower and flying through the trees on a 350-foot zip line to swimming, arts and crafts, hiking and fishing. There are also military-specific activities such as the Wall of Honor where children can put pictures of their deployed parents for all to see and a military appreciation day.

"It's something we encourage all the Operation Purple camps to do," said Eileen Huck, NMFA program manager for Operation Purple Specialty Camps. "All of these, of course, are kids who are experiencing or recently experienced a deployment. It's really great for them to have a glimpse of what their moms and dads do and get a better idea of everything that's involved in being part of the military community," she said.

"The campers know a lot more than what the adults realize. They know that their parents are in danger. At the military appreciation day, we have MREs (meals ready to eat) so they can see and taste what their parents are going through. They can touch the big heavy equipment at the same time get squirted by a fire truck or go play. It's there to see it but in a positive way," added Weber. The camp also has two military Family life counselors to help.

During the Military Appreciation Day July 21, around 190 campers played on bouncy houses, dunked their favorite camp counselor, ate snow cones and climbed on a fire truck and a mine resistant ambush protected vehicle provided by the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade. The Army Corps of Engineers - Wilmington had nature displays and a fishing game for young anglers.

Campers were walking around with big smiles on their faces, some tossing a football around and others gathering with their new friends. Wesley Jennings and Brody Hodapp, both 7, said they thought camp was lots of fun, especially in the pool and the lake.

Ashley Ratavaugh, 11, enjoyed the camaraderie of the camp. "I like how they understand how it's like to have a military parent," she said. Ratavaugh attends a public school where there aren't many children in the same situation. Fellow camper Jennifer Saldana, 11, also enjoys being with other military children.

"Even though I miss (my Family), it's fun to be with other friends."

Nick Boyce, 15, enjoyed the mud walk, one of Camp Rockfish's signature activities. "It took me 25 minutes to get all the mud out," he said.

Rysleigh Reeves, 11, couldn't get enough of the lake toys, a common theme among the children. "I love the lake toys. There's huge blowup thingies on the water and a trampoline," she said.

Weber is proud of the impact Camp Rockfish has made on the military community. The camp has hosted Operation Purple since 2004. "I am very honored and proud (to have this camp) selected for this. Because I can see the difference it makes in six days. It's awe-inspiring."

The camp is also looking to the future. "We have 400 spots, 1,100 applications (this year.) We have the space to hold more and we're working on the funding," he said.

For now, Camp Rockfish's mission is to ensure when every camper leaves, they will always treasure that week of 'just being a kid' in their memories.

For more information about 2011 camps or to donate to the program, visit www.militaryfamily.org/our-programs/operation-purple/.

Page last updated Fri July 30th, 2010 at 15:53